Julian Mills is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Quorso, a company that provides a platform to simplify and streamline daily workfor District and Store Leaders. He was previously a partner at McKinsey, focusing on major retail turnarounds andalso founded and co-chaired the Global Infrastructure Initiative with Madeleine Albright.

In an exclusive interview with Retail Tech Insights Europe, Mills shares his thoughtsabout Quorso’s interactions with leading US and EU retailers and the ongoing trends and challenges the industry.

Could you summarizekey trends the retail industry has experienced over the course of the pandemic and since?

The most significant trend in the industry during the pandemic was the surge in consumer demand for alternative ways to buy products from retailers (BOPIS, BORIS, curbside, etc.); this omnichannel explosion is one side of the coin. The other side concerns the operational complexity that has arisen in stores as a result. The retail sector used to have just one sales channel – customers visited a store and picked products directly off the shelf. Now, however, we have +15 sales channels and the store plays a role in almost all of them. Running a store was already a massive responsibility. During the pandemic it became significantly more challenging and exhausting. And since the pandemic the Great Resignation has added further upheaval, with staff turnover and shortages an ongoing battle.

How are retailers trying to tackle these challenges and support their Store Leaders? Are there any best practices that you would like to recommend to retailoperators reading this article?

At the moment, simplification is the talk of the town for every retailer. In order todeliver the omnichannel promise mostStore Managersand District Managers areaccessing 20-25 reports, tools, and apps every week. It’s hugely time-consuming and there is simply too much information, a lot of which is not even personally relevant. Store operators struggle to focus their efforts, ortrack the impact of their actions. My advice is prioritization. Retailers need to help Store and District Managers to understand the next-best-actions for their particular store, or stores, each day. Reduce the need for back office analysis so they can spend more time on the floor with customers.

How do you see the evolution of brick-and-mortar playing out against the rise of digital commerce?

Interestingly we see a divide here between Europe and America. In the US, non-store-basedretail grew during the pandemic amongst all the largest retailers. However, it still only accounts for about 15% of all sales.Even then, according to Target, 93% of all transactions still touch the store at some point for fulfilment, returns or pick-ups. This is the American story and therephysical stores remain super important. In Europe, however, online stores were adopted more rapidlyandmany physical stores are transitioning to become more like showcases, for exampleIKEA’s new concept store at Oxford Circus. Customers can browse and test furniture, then later place their order online. Managing this change in the mix and purpose of the store network – traditional stores, showcase stores and warehouse stores for omnichannel fulfilment – presents a whole new operational challenge for retailers and their store teams.

Can you explain more about the impact of the Great Resignation?

Storeand District Managers play a critical role in translating business strategy into daily execution and delivery on the ground. Traditionally these employees spent years apprenticing themselves into these roles, learning from experience as they moved up through the tiers of management.

“The role of the Store Leader is more complexthan ever– we have +15 sales channels and the store plays a role in almost all of them”

During the Great Resignation we have seen an unprecedented turnover of employees.New hires are relatively inexperienced, yet they are still being asked to perform critical tasks on a daily basis with minimal support. This is posing a real challenge at the leading retailers we speak to and they are turning to tools like Quorso to help. Our software enables new employees to get started rapidly by doing all the complex number-crunching for them, showing them exactly what to prioritize each day and guiding them to take the right actionwith intelligent workflows. Insights are shared between stores through the platform, so new managers can learn effectively from more tenured ones. It also frees up time for experienced managers so that they can focus on coaching and on the customer.

What is your take on Machine Learning technologymaking its way into retail analytics?

Machine Learning(ML) is an incredibly powerful technology that is still in its infancy.People frequently talk about its effective application for customers, but what has not been well-explored yet is its value for the operations side. Assuming that there are 500 stores, selling 20,000 skews, MLcan help connectthese data sets to what Managers in those stores are doing to drive sales.We are only at the beginning of leveraging ML to learn, for example, which promotions to prioritize and how to optimizeshift patterns and layouts for different stores. ML is not yet utilised at scale in retail operations and there's a huge opportunity for more tools that do this.

Is there any advice that you would like to share for both the upcoming players and established retailers within the industry?

Data, BI dashboards and reports are everywhere, but the struggle continues to be translating them into effective actionthat is then tracked and scaled. Store and District Managers are struggling to balance growing workloads and lack of experience, with the need to do time-consuming analysis of all this data. Software that can leverage ML to take over the analytics and provide operators with personalised next-best-actions are proving critical forstreamlining their work and optimizing store performance.